Theodore Hertzel

Theodore Hertzel

In biblical Hebrew there is a word commonly used at the beginning of a narrative. It is vaihee and frequently translated as “now”, or “once upon a time”.  It is usually the verb form called the wayyiqtol, which is the most common Hebrew verb form seen in the Old Testament. This word has the introductory function of preceding a temporal clause that provides the setting for the story that follows. For example in the biblical books of Ruth and Jonah it introduces the stories, which follow. Therefore, it is fitting that this incredible story of the rebirth of the Nation Israel should begin with . . . . ..

 “VAIHEE” or  Once Upon a Time

On May 15, 1948 the state of Israel was reborn as a sovereign nation. It had been 2,534 years since Israel was last an independent nation and never in world history has a previously destroyed nation regained its sovereignty.

After a difficult civil war which divided the twelve tribal region kingdom into two segments, Jeroboam I emerged as the leader of the northern ten geographic regions in 931 B.C. The southern kingdom retained two regions under Solomon’s son Rehoboam.

For 209 years the Jews ruled the northern kingdom before it fell to the Assyrians. Following a three-year siege the Assyrian ruler Sargon captured the Jews, took them back to Assyria, and then repopulated the ten tribal regions with people from Cutha, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim. Hoshea, the last of their eighteen kings, lost his throne and the kingdom’s sovereignty in 722 B.C.

The southern kingdom emerged as a separate two tribal region kingdom. They experienced a succession of twenty kings beginning with Rehoboam, Solomon’s son and ending with Zedekiah in 586 B.C. They too were conquered, but by their nemesis, Nebuchadnezzar the leader of the invading Babylonians. He invaded Jerusalem on three separate occasions. The first invasion was in 605 B.C., the second in 597 B.C, and the final one in 586 B.C. This began the saga of the “wandering Jew”, scattered around the world living in different nations but always retaining their unique identity. Their treatment by the citizens, ecclesiastical organizations, and governments of the counties in which they lived seemed to insure that they would always wander, suffer rejection, and persecution. It was only the Christians who believed the Bible exactly as it was written that knew Israel had a future as a sovereign nation. This group has historically been identified as dispensationalists. This chapter will briefly examine the rejection of the Jews, and the historical events surrounding their return to the land that they have been scripturally promised. Rabbi Lewis Browne perhaps captured the essence of their providential existence best in 1928, twenty years before Israel would emerge as a modern sovereign nation. He said:

 This is the Story of the Jew, That Strange Man Who Will Not Die

Through thirty and more centuries he has wandered about on earth, despised and rejected, bruised and beaten, yet all the time wandering on.

He has seen far-flung empires crack and crumble, and mighty peoples dwindle to naught. Egyptian, Canaanite, and Philistine; Assyrian, Chaldean, and Persian; Greek, Roman, and Saracen: all these and more have marched over him in pride. With their kings and priests, their tyrants and princelings, they have marched over him in vainglorious pride–only to fall and die by the roadside. But he, the Jew, still lives on. Obstinately he fights off Time and Man, pressing along on his own path, keeping his own counsel, cherishing his own dreams, living his own life in his own way. A strange man he has been, and a strange man he remains–and a stranger story than that of his life no tongue has ever recounted.[i]


The name Israel was first given to the patriarch Jacob as chronicled in Genesis 32: 28 which according to archbishop James Ussher was about 1900 B.C.[ii] Jacob was the grandson of the patriarch Abraham who received a significant unilateral covenant from God. This covenant included a land, seed and blessings for both he and his progeny. In fact God gave Abraham the boundaries of the land that he and his offspring would some day inherit (Genesis 15: 18-21). He also told him that his progeny would be afflicted and spend four hundred years in a land that was not theirs. After this period they would leave that land with great wealth and substance (Genesis 15: 13-14).

Jacob had finally settled his strained relationship with his father in law Laban in Haran and was on the way home to Beersheba. When Jacob and his family reached a point just south of Gilead he had the last meeting with Laban ending his indentured servitude to him. He knew that he still had to deal with his twin brother Esau who twenty years earlier had threatened to kill him. It was this event and his mother’s insistence that drove him out of Beersheba to Haran. So, knowing this he sent forward messengers to meet with Esau in the land of Seir where Esau had settled.  As soon as Jacob heard their report he was greatly afraid and distressed and responded in two ways. First, he made camp preparations by dividing the camp in two. One half was kept a significant distance away so they could escape from Esau’s soldiers who might have been seeking revenge on Jacob. Second, he began to pray. He asked Jehovah God to keep His promise to protect him as he followed God’s command to faithfully return home to Canaan. Jacob also acknowledged that all God’s loving kindness and grace was laid upon him, an unworthy servant. He closed the prayer reaffirming what God had previously said to him, namely that there are more divine promises yet to be fulfilled.

Initially Jacob moved the entire family south of the Jabbok River to allow a hasty retreat if the encounter with Esau proved adversarial. So Jacob crossed the Jabbok River, which was a border between Gilead, and the area, which later became Ammon. It was nighttime when he took his women, children and all their possessions with him and crossed over the river. Now they were closer to the Promise Land but not in it yet. They were still on the east side of the Jordan River.

He left his family and possessions on the south side of the Jabbok River and went by himself back to the north side. He was probably checking that all the possessions had been moved to the south side of the Jabbok. This isolation set the stage for the third appearance of God to Jacob. The text of Genesis 32: 24 says that “there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.”

Jacob wrestled with a celestial being that had the appearance of a man. We know this to be the Angel of Jehovah also known as a preincarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hosea 12: 5 confirms the “man” as an angelic being and not an earthly man. The wrestling went on all night until the morning. The text says that the Angel did not prevail against Jacob. This is not because He was not able (angels are significantly stronger then men), but because He wanted the struggle to last. Jacob was going to come out of it a better, more refined man. Finally when the Lord wanted the wrestling to end He gave Jacob’s thigh a debilitating supernatural blow that dislocated Jacob’s hip. Still, Jacob would not release his hold on the Angel until He blessed him. Interestingly the Angel asked Jacob his name and he answered “Jacob.” The Angel then said, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”  So God renames Jacob “Israel”, which in Hebrew is Yisrael, or a combination of two Hebrew words sarah and el and it literally means “he who strives with God.” The word play helps our understanding of Israel and Jacob. The Abrahamic Covenant he was prophesied to receive by inference included him striving with Laban, Esau and God Himself. God gave Jacob’s uncle, Ishmael (future Arab nations), a prophecy regarding the perpetual struggle between the Jews and the Arabs (Genesis 16: 11-12). The history of the Nation Israel clearly fulfills this prophecy about the relationship of the Jews, struggling with the Arabs, other nations and God. Jews in their struggles with the world continually turned from God to follow after the pagan nations around them. Further insight revealed in the word play of the word “Israel” is that God protects and preserves for Jacob and God will protect and preserve Israel. Even though they sin terribly, God will be on their side as all the world’s nations seek to conspire against them. There is only one way God will abandon this protection and Jeremiah describes it in chapter thirty-one of his book:

Jeremiah 31:35-37

35Thus saith Jehovah, who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who stirreth up the sea, so that the waves thereof roar; Jehovah of hosts is his name: 36If these ordinances depart from before me, saith Jehovah, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. 37Thus saith Jehovah: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith Jehovah (ASV 1901).

This story ends with Jacob asking the Angel to identify Himself. The Angel responded with a question, “Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name?”  The Angel at Jacob’s request blesses him and Jacob renames the place on the north side of the river Jabbok Peniel: for, said he, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” Peniel literally means in Hebrew, “the face of God.”  Jacob is acknowledging that the Angel is indeed God and he has been preserved through the struggle and will be preserved in the struggles with Esau and the world in general as it turns against Israel. Throughout the book of Genesis we see the name Israel used interchangeably with Jacob. However, the frequency of usage of Israel increases as the chronological narrative of the Bible moves forward.

 Genesis chapter thirty-four tells the story of the rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah. In their condemnation of these events Jacob’s sons use the name Israel for the first time in reference to themselves as a nation and not just a family or an alternate name for Jacob. The emerging seeds of a nation are seen in this chapter.

Some time later the ten older sons of Jacob, in their envy, sold Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son into slavery to some itinerant Ishmaelite merchants traveling to Egypt. Joseph providentially rose up to become second only to pharaoh of the greatest nation on earth at that time and is charged with protecting that country from an imminent famine. In the process his family comes to Egypt seeking food. They reconcile with him and all seventy of them enter Egypt to live there under his protection.

When they emerged from Egypt four hundred years later travelling back to Canaan in 1445 B.C they were a bonafide nation with a population of more than two million citizens. Under the leadership of Moses, who was chosen by God, they become a theocracy. Over the next eight hundred fifty nine years until they fell to the Babylonians, they would intermittently trust God and relapse into the idolatrous practices of the nations around them. God would correct them but all the while loving and assuring them He had a future for them as a nation.

Leviticus 26: 42-44

42then will I remember my covenant with Jacob; and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land. 43The land also shall be left by them, and shall enjoy its sabbaths, while it lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity; because, even because they rejected mine ordinances, and their soul abhorred my statutes. 44And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them; for I am Jehovah their God; 45 but I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am Jehovah. 46These are the statutes and ordinances and laws, which Jehovah made between Him and the children of Israel in mount Sinai by Moses (ASV 1901).

In His faithfulness He will someday fulfill His covenant with Abraham by blessing Messiah or Christ-believing Jews and bring them into the promised land of Israel. The fullness of the covenant will be realized in the Millennium. However, He gave them sufficient prophecies insuring that they would be back in the land before that time but in a state of unbelief regarding Jesus as their Messiah.

[i] Browne, Lewis, Stranger Than Fiction; A Short History of the Jews From Earliest Times to the Present Day, New York, NY The Macmillian Company,1928 pg. 7

[ii] Ussher, J, 1650. Annals of the World: James Ussher’s Classic Survey of World History (Modern English republication, ed. Larry and Marion Pierce, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003)



Daniel E. Woodhead